Northwestern faces Michigan this week, who the Wildcats haven’t played since 2015, when they got blown off the field. Jim Harbaugh takes his team to Evanston after an impressive few weeks, where as Northwestern has struggled recently. We talked to Josh LaFond of Maize n Brew, Michigan’s SB Nation site, to get a better grasp for the Wolverines.
Inside NU: What are your impressions of how Shea Patterson and the offense have performed this season?
Josh LaFond: I think you could go a lot of potentially different ways with this answer but you know what, overall I actually feel good about how they’ve performed.
With the exception of the first half of the Notre Dame game Michigan has gotten good push up front in the ground game and Shea Patterson has been dealing. Patterson hasn’t put up the numbers qualifying him for Heisman trophy discussion but he’s proving to the nation that he deserves to be called one of the games best QBs with his laser accuracy and deep bomb ability.
INU: Michigan hasn’t really been tested since the opener against Notre Dame, but what should Northwestern fans know about the Wolverine defense?
JL: Although not living up to the “elite” name they were dubbed in the preseason — returning almost all of a defense that finished the year ranked #3 nationally, they are putting it together now.
When you lose senior leadership like Michigan did this season in All-American defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and senior starting linebacker Mike McCray it takes a few games to get rolling and by all accounts the defense is back on track.
They’re an attacking defense that is called “high risk, high reward”, but if you ask defensive coordinator about that he will say there’s no risk about it. Michigan likes to run a lot of man coverage and send as many as possible after the QB. It can cause problems when facing a dual-threat guy but against Clayton Thorson — a more traditional pro-style QB, it sets up well for the Wolverines.
INU: What has surprised you most about Michigan this season?
JL: They have put the team’s away that they should. You’re probably wondering what I mean by that so I’ll tell you; last season Michigan had games against Cincinnati, Air Force, and Rutgers. The three worst teams on their schedule and they struggled to put the pedal to the floor in all those games. They ended in a slip fest that was way too close for comfort.
This year however, Michigan has dominated and put away the inferior opponents the way you would expect a title contending team to do. Thrashing Western Michigan, SMU, and now Nebraska. It’s reminiscent of a vintage Stanford team led by Jim Harbaugh and in more recent memory the 2016 Wolverines that fell just short of a Big Ten title game berth, and shot at a trip to the college football playoff.
INU: What positions and players are you keeping a close eye on as the season unfolds?
JL: I want to see what the offensive line can do against the upcoming slate of conference games. They’re improving slowly but surely in the run game, and I want to see that same improvement in pass protection especially.
As far as players… it’s simple. I’m looking for Shea Patterson to shine as the offense starts opening up more and more each and every week. Michigan hasn’t had a QB this dynamic since Chad Henne (Denard Robinson was an athlete). He’s the type of game changer that can win you those close games against Michigan State and Ohio State that the Wolverines haven’t had in years.
INU: What’s your prediction for Saturday’s contest?
JL: I think it’ll be sloppy for the first half or at least “boring” but the talent difference will show in the second half as the offense spreads it out and Shea Patterson gets loose.
Michigan 42, Northwestern 17